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O#38: Polk City, Florida
ONovember 10, 2007


Polk County is located in the central part of Florida, about midway between Orlando and Tampa. The county includes the cities of Lakeland, Winter Haven and Bartow; a 220,000 acre swamp; and 850 lakes. Some of the largest alligators left in Florida live in some of these lakes, where visitors often spot them from distant shorelines. However, during mating season each spring, county officials say the alligators may exhibit aggressive behavior and hikers should steer clear of the beady-eyed creatures.

Photo: Fox News


In the fall of 2007, the inaugural "Roar 'n' Soar" weekend was held at the"Fantasy of Flight" aircraft museum in Polk County. The event featured the Florida state championship hot-air balloon races, a Jaguar car rally, aerobatic airplane demonstrations and classic race boats. Bob Carlton, longtime hot-air balloon guy and pyrotechnician, was the coordinator of the balloon part of the event, and invited me to fly there.


The "Fantasy of Flight" attraction is the brainchild of Kermit Weeks, an independently wealthy aircraft collector and championship aerobatic pilot. Kermit turned out to be a very gracious host, puttering up on his golf cart as I was wandering around the grounds to say "Hi, I'm Kermit, this is my place." He was aware of my own particular fantasy of flight, and asked a few questions about cluster ballooning before concluding humorously "Well, I'll leave that to you" and puttering off again.


My crew chief Bob Dunnington, his wife Edie and my girlfriend Marj traveled to Florida to assist with the flight. We were given the use of a little quonset hut on the edge of the runway for the inflation. Based on Bob Carlton's report of some windiness before dawn on the day before, I decided to do the inflation inside the hut. It turned out to be an unnecessary precaution, as conditions on the ground were very calm, although we did get to see how many people and balloons will fit inside a quonset hut.



I remembered the old Florida orange juice commercials, with Anita Bryant and her animated friend Orangebird. "Come to the Florida sunshine tree... Fresh-tasting orange juice naturally..." Those commercials, along with Cape Canaveral and the newly-opened Disneyworld, were my childhood images of Florida. Now, as the sun began to color the eastern sky, it seemed only natural that I should be carried into the skies over Florida by a bunch of huge citrus fruit.